Son-Mother (Pesar-Madar, Iran-Czech Republic, 2019) – CIFF2

Life at the bottom

 Having recently posted about two Iranian films by ex-pat filmmakers, it’s good to see one made in the country itself though it’s doubtful whether it will be screened there. It’s directed by feminist Mahnaz Mohammad who has been imprisoned for her feminist campaigning but bravely hasn’t let that subdue her in this her first feature which is written by Mohammad Rasoulof. It concerns Leila (Raha Khodayari), a factory worker and single mother trying to make ends meet in a dysfunctional society. Leila’s problem is she’s being courted by widower Mr. Kazem (Reza Behboodi) which leads to gossip amongst her workmates that is predictably misogynist.

In addition, economic pressures on the factory, no doubt enhanced by America’s Trumpist sanctions, mean workers are being laid off and are fearful of their position. Leila’s failure to join in a protest further alienates her colleagues from her. She has two children to look after and is estranged from her family so has no support.

The film is in two parts: ‘Son’ and ‘Mother’. Slightly perversely the titles refer to the opposite points-of-view; the first part chronicles Leila’s travails whilst the second follows the son, Amir (Mahan Nasiri), who has to deal with the consequences of not being able to join his mother with Mr. Kazem due to social mores. He’s about 10-years old and his soulful face speaks volumes as he tries to cope as best he can. Presumably the titles are emphasising the characters’ preoccupations.

In a repressive society it is of no surprise that everyone is looking out for themselves hence neighbourliness is in short supply; this was also evident in Under the ShadowTurning ‘the people’ against one another, divide and rule, makes tyranny easier; this is one of Trump’s modus operandi. Iran has been vilified, not entirely without reason, since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and yet has continued to produce some marvellous films. Under repression the urge to speak out by artists is often strongest and, of course they have much to say about misfortune. In western democracies only minorities are obviously exploited and many believe even that isn’t the case.

Ashkan Ashkani’s cinematography captures the bleak cityscape and the director’s documentary background is evident in the social realist mise en scene. When she was unable to attend Cannes in 2011 Costa-Gavras read a letter she sent, stating: “I am a woman, I am a filmmaker, two sufficient grounds to be guilty in this country.” Hopefully she’ll have more opportunities to speak as she has plenty to say. It’s available here.


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